• The Publisher’s Notebook •
Celebrityitis: Malibu and the First Amendment
BY ANNE SOBLE
BY ANNE SOBLE
After watching and listening to two meetings on the need to protect celebrities—and oh yes, possibly all of the rest of us—from the perils of what was variously described as “a pack of wolves stalking their prey” and “the wild West,” it’s hard to escape the conclusion that even city officials are not immune to the call of the cult of celebrity.
Academic tomes are flourishing that address the sociological and psychological implications of popular preoccupation with those who are famous, in large part, for being famous. Certainly, some of the famous have talent, but others are just good at attracting attention. Some studies contend that celebrity worship is a key driving force in society.
That there is a symbiotic relationship between those who seek publicity and those who can provide it is self evident and also in need of clarification. It’s well known that some publicists call the paparazzi when their clients will be out and about. And personnel at well-known hot spots have a cottage industry providing the paps with tips for cash. And shouldn’t anyone going to a hot spot know what to expect?
A panel of Los Angeles area municipal officials who have already dispatched all of their cities’ more serious issues, is looking at how to protect those whose careers hinge on high visibility from being visible when they don’t want to be. They invited three entertainers to air their views and treated them with a deference usually reserved for heads of state.
When an actor, who acknowledged that he was sued for a $100,000 settlement for “swatting at” a paparazzi, said at the hearing, “[Celebrities] name their kids after food just to have permissible food they are allowed to love in their lives,” the city officials didn’t ask what that had to do with paparazzi, they nodded solemnly and acted as if it was one of the most profound things they’d ever heard.
Then there was the rock musician who lamented his fate as a paparazzi object, in large part because he’s connected to the Jennifer who was connected to the “Bra” in Brangelina. For the most part, the paparazzi aren’t driven to photograph talent, they are sniffing out what the Victorians called scandal. They primarily deal in salaciousness, and the American media consumer is a heavy-duty user of the legal substance.
Malibu’s mayor, in her unofficial capacity at the L.A. panel meeting, said the celebs “are moving out of Malibu” because of the paparazzi, in a tone suitable for the city just having been ravaged by a 7.9 magnitude earthquake. No one told that to Garth Brooks and Tricia Yearwood, Mel Gibson or Mark Harmon when they bought additional new digs recently. And of course, David Geffen and Larry Ellison don’t begin to know what they’re doing, buying up local properties. Ditto everyone else who wants to live here.
No doubt all of the Malibu celebrities will reconsider their mass exodus if the mayor’s suggestion that celebs get their own 9-1-1 line to report paparazzi incidents is implemented. After all, celebrities shouldn’t have to compete with bank robberies or murder attempts if they are in danger of being photographed when they don’t want to be.
The state doesn’t have a budget yet. California cities are coping with serious fiscal issues. But if there’s a way to demonstrate to celebrities that they deserve more special treatment than the rest of their constituents, some city officials are ready to tackle the job. At present, there doesn’t seem to be a cure for this kind of celebrityitis other than a good dose of political and legal reality.